Prospective Modeling in Industrial Ecology: State of the Art

Prospective Modeling with Established IE Methods

Industrial ecology methods and models, which allow us to study complex industrial systems, have been at the forefront of the interdisciplinary systems approach for more than three decades. Traditional industrial ecology methods include EE-I/O, LCA, MFA, urban metabolism, and industrial symbiosis. They cover a wide spectrum of spatial, temporal, and organizational scales, from static snapshots of the supply chain of local companies to studies of the evolution of aggregated material and energy flow accounts through the last centuries. They offer to decision-makers quantitative information about supply chains, environmental impacts embodied in trade, material and energy stocks and flows, and options for system-wide improvement.

Industrial ecology methods have reached high levels of sophistication and are broadly applied in companies and academia alike, but their use for prospective assessment of transformation strategies has remained a niche application. Prospective scenario exercises for I/O tables have repeatedly been conducted over the last decades (Cantono et al. 2008; De Koning et al. 2015; de Lange 1980; Idenburg and Wilting 2000; Leontief and Duchin 1986; Levine et al. 2007), but this modeling approach has not entered mainstream research on society's future metabolism. The reason may be twofold: (1) constructing I/O tables for future years requires many assumptions to be made and (2) using I/O tables in monetary units to measure interindustry flows, as in the studies above, makes it difficult to include physical process descriptions for specific technologies. Beyond IE, I/O tables form the core of computable general equilibrium (CGE) and prospective econometric models like the E3ME model (Burfisher 2011; Cambridge Econometrics 2014).

Most LCA studies are retrospective and attributional; they use historic data to model the life cycle of product systems and provide timeless indicators for environmental product performance. Prospective LCA (Lundie et al. 2004; Spielmann et al. 2005) and consequential LCA (CLCA) (Earles and Halog 2011; Finnveden et al. 2009; Whitefoot et al. 2011) add a forward-looking perspective to LCA. They typically assess transformation strategies on the small scale.

Prospective MFA studies mostly cover metals and building materials but do not include other layers or satellite accounts (Elshkaki and Graedel 2013; Hatayama et al. 2010; D. B. Müller 2006; Northey et al. 2014; Pauliuk et al. 2012; Sartori et al. 2008; Gallardo et al. 2014).

From the methods above, only MFA has been used to analyze preindustrial societies' socio-metabolic transitions (Krausmann 2011; Schaffartzik et al. 2014; Sieferle et al. 2006). These studies quantified trends in the total energy and material turnover of different socio-metabolic regimes, but they did not assess specific transformation strategies to shift from one regime to another.

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